Tag Archive | Simplicity

Intentional Biasing

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is intentional biasing?”

“You’re familiar with the notion of action bias.”

“Yes. Our default tendency to favor action over inaction. We seem to operate under the implicit belief that doing something is better than doing nothing. This can lead us astray. Sometimes doing nothing is the better option.”

“It can also be used in a constructive sense. 

Action bias is a corrective habit meant to combat our tendency toward inaction – our tendency to passively stuff ourselves with information without acting on it.

This is what I call intentional biasing.

Similarly, we could think of something like elimination bias.

Elimination bias is a corrective habit meant to combat our tendency toward addition – our tendency to hoard things, and of our systems to needlessly increase in complexity.

There’s a compounding [<link; short read] effect at work here. Every little addition taken individually seems insignificant. In time, however, little by insignificant little, adds up to a significant lot.”

“Reminds me of the clean as you go principle I learned while working in a kitchen in London. By cleaning as you go, the effort is constant but minimal. There’s a beautiful rhythm to it. Absent this insight – the default –, adds up to an overwhelming mess at the end of the day which requires a significant effort to fix.”

Intelligibility

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is intelligibility?”

“It’s a little conceptual tool I created for myself. A measure of how easy something is to understand by others.

How intelligible is x?

You can think of it as a spectrum, from low to high.

Intelligibility has two components:

Simplicity

  • Plain language, using the most basic vocabulary.
  • Expressing the complex in terms of the simple.

Clarity

  • Clear language, and clear thinking.
  • Defining concepts.
  • Making the implicit explicit.
  • Expressing the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar.

“What about brevity?”

“Brevity is beautiful, but compression often comes at the cost of intelligibility.

Intelligibility can be used to evaluate individual concepts, and texts as a whole.

It can also be used to evaluate yourself, your capacity to make yourself understood.

How intelligible are you?

Daily subtraction

To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, subtract things every day. (Lao Tzu)


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What if you turned subtraction into an actual daily practice?”

“What do you have in mind?”

“Additive thinking is our default. It’s effortless. Subtractive thinking however does not happen unless intentionally activated. It takes effort because it triggers a feeling of loss.

To do it consistently, you need to have Simplicity as a primary value. This is the first step.

The next step is to actually ask yourself subtractive questions every day:

What can you eliminate?

What if you eliminated x?

On Beauty and Simplicity 2

Brevity is beautiful. (Kalid Azad)


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Tell me a model that expresses something you strive for.”

Brevity.

Expressing as much as possible with as little as possible.”

On Centering

The ancestor of every action is a thought. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I optimize my centering practice?”

“You initiate and guide your practice with thoughts expressed as meaningful words – I call them word-thoughts

In attempting to optimize the process, you’re essentially asking:

When centering, what do I want to think?

You’re creating an optimal sequence of word-thoughts.”

“I have a tendency to overcomplicate it and create too long a sequence.”

“Make simplicity your mantra. Make the process three steps at most.

I call the first item of the sequence, the access-point. Make the access-point something deeply meaningful to you. Your highest value, your Center.

What is your Center?”

“Love.”

“That is your access-point.

Whenever you initiate the centering practice, think Love.

Let’s make it a three-step process.

What do you want the next two steps to be?”

“Breathing, and a body check.”

“So we have a sequence:

Love
Breathing
Body Check

This is the macro-sequence. Every item of the sequence can itself be a micro-sequence.

For instance, you can just breathe. But you can make it more powerful by smiling as you breathe and thinking ‘Peace’ –  the beautiful practice you’ve learned from Thich Nhat Hanh. 

Se we have a micro-sequence:

(Conscious) Breathing
– Smile
– Peace

What are the key aspects of the body check?”

“Noticing and adjusting my posture, noticing tension, accepting, and letting go.”

“So we have another micro-sequence:

Body Check
– Posture
– Tension
— Accept
— Let go

Visually, the process looks something like this:

Breathing, body check, posture and tension are essentially self-awareness practice.”

Beautiful Models: High-Density Experiences

Train to live on the other side of pain. (Josh Waitzkin)


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I had a beautiful experience watching a mosquito drink my blood. I’d never seen it happen.”

“Wasn’t it painful?”

“An essential aspect of my training is exposing myself to discomfort and pain. That’s what it started as, but ended up as a contemplation on the beautiful miracle that is Life.

This is what I call a high-density [<link; short length] experience. It lasted but a few moments, but it felt like so much happened in that brief time-span. I often get the same feeling during my 5-minute meditation sessions.”

Learning Combo: Anki + The Feynman Technique

If you can’t explain something in simple terms, you don’t understand it. (Richard Feynman)


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is the Feynman technique?”

“It’s a beautiful technique created by Scott H. Young [<link], which was inspired by the great physicist Richard Feynman. Feynman was extraordinary in his ability to explain the most complex concepts in simple terms. 

I want to become a great explainer like Feynman.

There’s a quote I love by Antoine de Saint-Exupery:

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

I’d say this applies to understanding as well. The essence of understanding lies in simplicity.

“What does the technique look like?”

“The essence of the technique is learning as if by teaching someone who doesn’t know anything about it. The beauty of it is that you don’t actually need someone to teach it to – thought the feedback in such a case might be useful. 

The goal is to simplify as much as possible, both the language and the explanation.
The language by rephrasing in your own words, using as few words as possible, and eliminating jargon.
The explanation by capturing the essence of the concept using analogies and images.

This is an iterative process. 

The technique aligns with an important principle of Learning: Testing (your understanding). When trying to explain something, you’ll often discover that what you took to be understanding was nothing but pseudo-understanding.”

“How do you practice the technique?”

“To retain what you learn requires Repetition. This is another important principle of Learning. The optimal frequency of repeating what you’ve learned is called  Spaced-Repetition. One way to make use of this is by using a flashcard system [<link].”

“Which one do you use?”

“I use an open-source software called Anki [<link]. 

I practice the Feynman Technique by combining it with Anki.

I create flashcards using Anki, and whenever I review them, I test my understanding using the Feynman Technique. So every review is an iteration of the process.”

On Pleasure 2

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What pleasures are worth cultivating?”

“Pleasures too can be viewed through the 80/20 (macro-)filter. 80% of them are not worth cultivating. Most bring marginal benefits and/or have a high opportunity cost.”

“How would you narrow down the 20%?”

“Through more filtering. I’m thinking of three filters in particular: Simplicity, Meaning, and Usefulness. Expressed as directives:

Cultivate simple pleasures. 

Cultivate pleasure for and (re)learn to appreciate what you already have. They’re more numerous than you realize.

Cultivate meaningful pleasures.

Cultivate pleasures that are aligned with your values and your purpose.

Cultivate useful pleasures.

Cultivate pleasures that add persistent value to your life, that grow and strengthen you.”

On Beauty and Templating

Regain the freedom to create like a child. (Josh Waitzkin)


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I beautify any day?”

“The day is but a string of moments. Beautify as many as possible.”

“How can I beautify any moment?”

Have a system for it.

For instance you can create a practical template [<link; medium read]. 

Start with the fixed part of the template – the framework. Something like:

Being
Meaning
Feeling
Doing

And then start adding your (idiosyncratic) details:

Being

Presence
Connection

Meaning

Identity
– Life-Artist / Creator 

Connect with your Inner-Artist/Child.”

“But I’m not an artist.”

Everybody’s an Artist. They’ve just forgotten it.

Meaning

Meta-Values [<link; short read]
– Love
– Play
– Gratitude
– Simplicity
– Balance

Purpose / Ikigai (expressed with one word)
– Connect 

Feeling

Joy
Fun

Doing

Creating
Moving
Learning

That’s your moment-to-moment map. The tendency (or at least my tendency) is to add a lot of details to it, but the goal is to have as few as possible.

Eliminate all but the most powerful ones.

The Meaning part represents the Macro level. 

SEE the Macro in the Micro [<link; medium read] of the moment.

Moment to moment to moment, seek to align the Doing with the Meaning through the Being and the Feeling.”

Beautiful Systems: Simplicity

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Simplicity as a system?”

“It’s a deconstruction and systematization of the simplification process. A practical blueprint.

The system visually looks like this: 

All the components of the system are mental models.”

“Can you give a few details on how it works?”

“Let’s say you have a set of data-points you want to simplify. How can you do it optimally?

One way is through filtering. That’s essentially asking two questions:

What 20% of the inputs are responsible for 80% of the outputs?
What’s the most important / impactful thing? (from within the 20%)”

“What if there’s more than one most important / impactful thing?”

“Think of it as your focus-point. Isolating them individually allows you to explore each of them in depth.

Another way to simplify them is through elimination of data-points. 

What can you eliminate?

“Would you eliminate the 80%?”

“Depends on what you’re after. In some cases, yes, that’s the optimal approach. But in other cases, you just want to refine the data set. You can metaphorically think of it as editing, or pruning. You’re cutting away some branches to allow the rest to grow.

Another elimination approach is paraphrasing, eliminating data-points by rephrasing the language.

What can you express with fewer words?

The final way to simplify them is through integration. Joining data-points together to form a new emergent whole.”